Tribal governments need access to homeland security funds

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Ever since President Bush stated in his State of the Union Address earlier this year that state governments should have access to federal homeland and anti-bioterrorism security funding, it has been my strong belief that American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments should be included in the distribution of these funds.

However, since the president failed to specify whether tribal governments are included in this homeland emergency preparedness plan, there has been great confusion within the departments of the federal government as to whether or not they should receive funds. Similar to state governments, tribal governments have citizens to protect, and therefore, I believe, should have access to funds that will help them better protect their land and their people in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency.

During a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in March, I pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson as to whether or not tribal governments would have access to these funds. Secretary Thompson responded by stating that tribal governments are eligible for both homeland and anti-bioterrorism security funds. The Secretary also assured me that he would notify the tribes of their ability to access these funds. I am hopeful that by informing tribal governments of their ability to request these funds, he will encourage tribes to come forward and successfully receive the funds crucial to protecting their homelands.

I am concerned, however, that Secretary Thompson did not reach out to the tribal governments before I questioned him in March. I believe that the lack of communication between the Bush Administration and the tribal governments stems from President Bush's inability to issue an Executive Order requiring the federal government to establish a consultation policy with tribal governments. Without such an order, I believe tribal governments will continue to be left out of the loop on federal programs and other information that could dramatically benefit Indian country.

Recently, I sent a letter with twelve of my colleagues to the president asking that he clarify his procedure of consulting with tribal governments on all issues pertaining to Indian country, and asking whether he would offer an Executive Order. I am hopeful such an order will be forthcoming.

Such non-recognition of tribal governments ignores the vital and necessary role such governments serve to their constituents, and often to the larger surrounding communities. Recently, I learned that every state was allocated $5 million in federal funds to develop their homeland emergency preparedness plans. To date, tribal governments have not received a dime.

The president and Congress have requested and approved substantial homeland emergency preparedness funding increases for federal and state governments in Fiscal Years 2002 and 2003. I urge the Administration and my colleagues to mandate that a portion of these funds be made available to tribal governments, if tribal governments choose to participate.

Due to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the need for both state and tribal governments to have established and viable emergency management services is very apparent. I have spoken with numerous tribal leaders during the past six months, and learned that they are very concerned that their governments will be left out of security initiatives established by the federal government.

Tribal leaders from the organizations of the California Rural Indian Health Board, National Indian Health Board, National Congress of American Indians, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Navajo Nation have all stated that tribes need access to the available funds in order to establish a safer environment on their lands.

Tribal governments have protected their people and land long before the construction of the federal government system. Today, tribal governments continue to provide governmental services on their lands, including health, housing, education, environmental protection, law enforcement and justice systems, and basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public buildings.

Clearly, tribal governments provide important and necessary services to Indian country by ensuring that she remains functional and ready to respond to what ever challenges the future may hold. Therefore, the only acceptable answer from the Bush Administration and the departments of the federal government should be, "Yes, tribal governments have access to homeland and anti-bioterrorism security funds."

Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. , D-N.J., currently serves as an active member of the Native American Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives. As a member of the House Resources Committee ? the committee with jurisdiction over all matters regarding the relations of the United States with Native Americans and American Indian tribes ? he has been a defender of the sovereign status of Indian tribal governments.